Women are sharing how they protect themselves from violence. Here’s what’s missing from the conversation.
Sarah Everard's case has sparked an international conversation about violence against women—and why we need to hold men accountable for their violence.
It was sparked by the disappearance of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, who went missing in South London last week. She was wearing bright colors, walking along a well-lit road, and even spoke with her boyfriend on the phone for much of her walk. Sarah did everything that we as women are taught to do to protect ourselves when walking alone after dusk. Still, she was abducted and murdered, allegedly by a Metropolitan police officer.
Sarah's case feels intimately personal to women around the world. This tragedy has reminded many of us of the constant vigilance we practice every day to keep ourselves safe.
A post from British barrister Harriet Johnson is going viral for its message.
"Every woman you know has taken a longer route. Has doubled back on herself. Has pretended to dawdle by a shop window. Has held her keys in her hand. Has made a fake phone call. Has rounded a corner and run," she tweeted.
"Every woman you know has walked home scared. Every woman you know."
And it's true—that's the overwhelming message that's coming from this conversation. Fear is part of our daily lives as women. It's how we keep ourselves safe.
From a young age, we are taught that it's our responsibility as women to protect ourselves from the violence of men.
We're told to cover up our bodies so we don't tempt men to leer or grab us without consent.
We're taught to be hyper-vigilant of our surroundings, because if we do so, men will be less likely to attack us.
We're given rape whistles and pepper spray and told to carry our keys like a knife—to defend ourselves against inevitable violence.
Sarah Everard's case is striking a nerve with women because she did everything we've been told to do. She did everything right.
And a predator still took her life.
Maybe it's time to change the conversation.
We know that short skirts, drinking, walking alone at night, even flirtatious behavior—none of those things cause rape or violence.
Rapists cause rape and violence.
Maybe instead of teaching our daughters that it's their responsibility to protect themselves from men, we should be teaching our sons that they are responsible for their actions.
Instead of giving our daughters rape whistles, we should teach our sons to not rape.
Does that feel aggressive to read? Does it feel unfair to put that burden on men?
We need to change the way we think and talk about sexual violence. Language is part of the problem.
Educator Jackson Katz explains it best in his 2012 TED Talk, "Violence Against Women: It's a Men's Issue."
"We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many men raped women. We talk about how many girls in a school district were harassed last year, not about how many boys harassed girls. We talk about how many teenaged girls got pregnant in the state of Vermont last year, rather than how many men and teenaged boys got girls pregnant," he said.
"So you can see how the use of this passive voice has a political effect. It shifts the focus off men and boys and onto girls and women. Even the term 'violence against women' is problematic. It's a passive construction. There's no active agent in the sentence. It's a bad thing that happens to women. It's a bad thing that happens to women, but when you look at that term 'violence against women,' nobody is doing it to them. It just happens. Men aren't even a part of it!"
Gender violence issues are not just women's issues. They are not a problem for our daughters alone to be aware of and solve. Because even when they do everything we teach them, they can still become victims of violence at someone else's hand.
There's no easy fix here. There's nothing we can say that will change the world we live in overnight. We need to keep having tough conversations about violence and our responsibility to each other. We need to be honest about the messages we're sending to our children.
Gender violence is not only a problem for girls and women. It's a problem for everyone—and it's going to take everyone to solve it.
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